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Retraining the brain for CFS, FMS, MCS, PTSD, GWS

The brain is not a static, fixed structure, but is highly dynamic and changeable.  Scientists have coined the term “brain plasticity” to describe this lifelong capacity for the brain “to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences”  and “the changing of neurons, the organization of their networks, and their functions via new experiences.”  This has far-reaching implications, making this area of research a new frontier in science and medicine.

Ashok Gupta is an innovative researcher and therapist, who is applying the principle of brain plasticity to help people recover from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromylagia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Gulf War Syndrome.  His method, prompted by his own encounter with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and followed by ten years of research and study, is called Gupta Amygdala Retraining.

What is the amygdala and why should I care?

In his book, The Joy of Living, Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche describes the amygdala in this way:

“The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped neuronal structure situated at the bottom of the limbic region, just above the brain stem. …There are two of these little organs in the human brain, one in the right hemisphere, the other in the left.”

“…the amygdala is connected to the autonomic nervous system, the area of the brain stem that automatically regulates muscle, cardiac, and glandular responses, and the hypothalamus, a neuronal structure at the basic of the limbic region that releases adrenaline and other hormones into the bloodstream, the emotional memories it creates are extremely powerful, linked to significant biological and biochemical reactions.”

Gupta explains that one primary role of the amygdala is to protect us from danger.  It interprets stimuli to determine if they are dangerous.  If so, it sends a message to the hypothalamus, another brain structure, which turns on the Fight or Flight Response, which is also known as the Sympathetic Nervous System Response or the Stress Response.  A flood of biochemicals is released into the body and some body systems, like the digestive system, are shut down in order to maximize energy for response to the threat.  All this is meant as a transitory reaction to cope with what appears to be danger.  Your system is not meant to be on high alert 24/7.

In people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and the related illnesses, it appears that the amygdala gets stuck in a state of high alert and continues to send a danger signal to the hypothalamus at the slightest provocation.  The hypothalamus responds by continually releasing stress chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol into the body.  This genetic, protective mechanism intended to keep us safe from bodily injury instead becomes harmful to the body.  Chronic sympathetic arousal causes stress chemicals to accumulate in the body, which adversely impacts the immune and hormonal systems leading to headaches, pain, disruption of sleep cycles, viral infections, and illnesses like IBS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, immune depression, autoimmune diseases and others.

Amygdala Retraining for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and related illnesses

The Fight-Flight Response was discovered by the Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon many years ago. The role of the amygdala in the sequence has only come to light in more recent years, in particular its function in relation to immune and chemical threats in addition to the physical and emotional ones already noted.  Gupta believes that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and its related conditions are neurological disorders due to an abnormality in the amygdala.  He proposes that an initial trauma to the amygdala causes it to become sensitized, which ultimately leads to chronic sympathetic arousal, hyper-arousal of the brain, oxidative stress, and the resulting disorders.

Gupta emphasizes that CFS, FMS, MCS, PTSD, GWS are real physical conditions not psychological ones.  His Amygdala Retraining is based on the idea of brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to create new neuronal connections.  Gupta points out that:

“…in animal models, it is understood that the amygdala can be controlled with new neurons being formed, connecting from the pre-frontal cortex to the amydgala, to subdue and control its reactions.”

Other studies in neuroscience, like the ones that Mingyur Rinpoche discusses in his book The Joy of Living, Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness,  have shown that regular meditation can alter the structure of the brain.  Amygdala Retraining employs techniques derived from Neuro-Linguistic Programming, mindfulness meditation, breath training, and others to “target the reaction and control the amygdala.”

In brief, Amygdala Retraining employs the healing power of mind to heal the body.  This ability has been documented by science many times.  One example is the work of pioneer Dr. O. Carl Simonton, M. D. who, many years ago, introduced the use of visualization techniques and positive imagery into mainstream medicine, showing how they improve recovery rates from cancer.  Another example is the recent work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who has brought the practice of mindfulness meditation into the treatment of chronic pain.

Gupta has been successfully treating patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia in his London clinic for a number of years now.  His one year observational study of a group of 33 patients indicates a good rate of recovery or significant improvement.  The Amygdala Retraining is now available through a DVD set that includes 12 sessions, a book that contains transcripts of the sessions, and a mind map. This makes learning the techniques available to far more people.  The program is called The Advanced ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia Recovery Programme, although it is also relevant for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Gulf War Syndrome.

Amygdala Retraining and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

There is a great deal of heated debate in the MCS community as to whether people can fully recover from MCS by any means whatsoever.   However, two emerging paradigms are countering the idea that MCS is a life sentence.  This includes neural retraining as practiced by Gupta in Amygdala Retraining and Annie Hopper in her Dynamic Neural Retraining System. Gupta is in the process of developing a dedicated MCS page for his website.  Till then, on request he offers a special MCS exercise to go along with the DVD program. Martin Pall’s  Nitric Oxide hypothesis called the Tenth Paradigm represents another approach that involves the use of supplements to down regulate the Nitric Oxide cycle.

It’s important to bear in mind that these people are pioneers.  Their theories and methods are still in a state of evolution and not conclusively proven.  Nevertheless, a number of people utilizing these approaches are showing positive results—significant improvement for some and  full recovery for others.  You can find more discussion of these methods and reports of positive results by visiting Planet Thrive.  Annie Hopper recovered from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Fibromyalgia, and Ashok Gupta recovered from Chronic Fatigue using neural retraining.

Gupta explains that he differs from Martin Pall’s Nitric Oxide hypotheses in this way:

“in his NO/ONOO- hypothesis, the Nitric Oxide effects are mainly local. I do not believe that this could explain such a pervasive illness with such wide-ranging symptoms.  Instead, I believe that the Nitric Oxide theory reflects yet another secondary illness cycle rather than the underlying cause of the condition.”

My Initial Impressions of Amygdala Retraining

I’ve reviewed half of the 12 sessions of the The Advanced ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia Recovery Programme (Amygdala Retraining Technique), including the one that introduces the main technique.  I’ve also used the adjunct Soften and Flow exercise, which is fabulous.  Overall, I am impressed with the quality of the presentation and the step-by-step guidance that is provided.  I find Gupta to be intelligent, clear, kind, and compassionate.  His approach is a gentle, encouraging and lighthearted one.  The testimonial interviews are given by very real, genuine people.  The advantage of the Gupta program is the availability of the DVD format so it can be studied and utilized in your own home, but people are also reporting good success with Dynamic Neural Retraining, which is presented as a workshop.

These are simply my initial impressions.  As I haven’t yet engaged in the extended training, I cannot vouch for its efficacy.  Personally, I understand the science behind the plasticity of the brain so it’s within the realm of reason for me to consider that brain retraining will work.  At the same time, we are all different—what speaks to me may not speak to you.  What works for me may not work for you.  Those who are ready to think outside of the box might want to examine and consider one of these innovative treatments for themselves.

Please note that I do not receive reimbursement for writing about or recommending programs on this blog. I am not a doctor nor a therapist.  I am only sharing information and my own experience.

You might also like this related article:  1 in 5 highly sensitive

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  1. Libby

    great post Sandra!
    I look forward to hearing how you find the program after doing the exercises for the 6 months (and sooner too 🙂

    • Hi Libby, Thank you! I can tell you that I already feel more relaxed and spacious. The program has given me a new perspective and confidence. I heard about the program almost a year ago, but I didn’t take the time to explore it or to understand the theory. I believe everything comes at the right moment, and this is the right moment for me.

  2. Carol

    I am curious to know how you are doing Sandra, with Ashop Gupta’s brain retraining? I took Annie Hopper’s course in July and have done six weeks of sessions an hour a day (missed a few days here and there – five altogether) but should be able to stay on track now. My unwellness includes FM (40 years) CFS and MCS. I believe that I am making some progress, albeit very slow. Still progress is progress, and in the right direction :)) Some days the sessions go well and other days it seems difficult and ineffective due to pain and fatigue interferring. It is hard to stay focused on those days. Our group of eight that took the course has a blog, but we are only able to make positive comments on it, so posts are far and few between. Still there have been many good comments, and it is helpful to look for those “That’s Good” moments, and write about it.

  3. Hi Carol,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I don’t think either of these programs are miracle cures – they take hard work especially when you have such long-standing illness. I’m impressed by your dedication. I’m sorry for your pain and fatigue and the struggle it can be sometimes.

    I found the Gupta program extremely healing for working with the remnants of old trauma. I found just watching the 12 sessions (6 CD’s I think) extremely transformative and empowering. I worked with the program for awhile and found it very healing. I’ve been away from it for awhile and feel I need to reincorporate some of these healing techniques into my program.

    I am happy for your progress and hope it continues and speeds up! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  4. dawn

    What a great article, I have been looking into the gupta Program and NLP based programs such as Lightning process. Your review of Ashok’s program has made my understanding much clearer and it makes sense to me too. The program is a reasonable price too compared to Lightning Therapy. Thanks for reviewing.
    Dawn x

    • Thanks for your feedback, Dawn. I really appreciate it so much, I’m glad this article clarified your understanding of the Gupta program. Good luck with whatever path you choose!

  5. Hi,

    i just found this article and I would like to know how much you think you feel better due to the Gupta method?

    Thank you!

  6. Linda Worthington

    I have used the Gupta method, both the original DVD set and then the Accelerated method, for a year. The results have been impressive… I have a life again. It cleared my CFS and greatly reduced my MCS and EMS. I am now interested in Annie Hopper’s new DVD set that is due to be released soon, as I believe this could be the next step on my journey to full recovery. I would love to hear from anyone who is already using her techniques.

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